I want you to imagine that God has said to you and a lot of you don’t need this but probably some of us do. It’s not God’s will for everyone but you are to be on a very strict diet. No chocolate.
And here’s a piece of chocolate cake. It’s like unbelievable, decadent, wicked chocolate. And so you happen to be in Costco. Temptation: Oh, I want that chocolate. I want that chocolate. “Are you giving out samples?” “Yes, would you like one?” You’re just tempted. You love chocolate. It’s a besetting sin. You can’t live without chocolate. No, no.
Then you come down another aisle. Mmmmm. Right? Okay? You’re tempted. You haven’t sinned. It just means there is something that attracts you to make you want to do something that, in this particular case, you know for sure is not God’s will, it won’t be good for you.
Now, sin has just occurred. Now, I used chocolate cake because it is very benign. For some in this room, your besetting sin is not chocolate. It’s pornography. And you look for times to privately log on. For some of you, you have an eating disorder and you hide it.
For others, it’s shopping and every time you feel a little blue you are tempted to go spend money you don’t have and charge things and, by the way, every besetting sin is always covered by something called “lying.” And that’s the bigger thing that happens, then pretty soon this discrepancy because when we do things we know are wrong, then these facades and lies come up.
For others, it’s actually work and then the denial is, “I’m doing it for my family! I need to work eighty-five hours!” As you hear your mate say, “We don’t see you,” and the kids wonder what is going on and…
Let me ask you: What’s your piece of chocolate cake look like? What do you struggle with? For some it’s their body. Some guys it’s really cold outside and they have got a muscle shirt. Why? Well, if you’re going to work that hard, you want to show it off.
For others it’s their youth. Their sex appeal. And the one surgery leads to another surgery that leads to another surgery because somehow your identity is so wrapped up if you’re not still beautiful. But forties you can hang in there, fifties it gets harder, sixties it’s pretty tough.
The lie is, and this is throughout the Church, is not just that you are tempted. God promises you don’t have to cave in. But you have tried and failed and tried and failed and tried and failed and tried and failed. Willpower won’t work. He says, “There isn’t a temptation,” and the lies are, This is just mine. It’s unique. It’s my family background, it’s the way I am wired, I can’t help myself. Liar, liar, pants on fire! Not true.
There is faithfulness that can allow you to break free from that. It gets even better. When you take the bite of your chocolate and in your mind, I want you to think what it is, because I think I left out the prescription drug people and the second, third, and fourth glass of wine people. You are just a functioning alcoholic. And people have talked to you about it.
And, by the way, what my prayer before we started, for me and for you, Almighty God, Holy Spirit, will You peel back the layers of denial? Would You cause us to see ourselves for who we really are instead of all the excuses and all the denial and all the ways that we have somehow been able to live these lives of duplicity? Because if you don’t get real and if you don’t own it, if you don’t say, “That’s my chocolate, that’s my besetting sin, that’s my struggle,” and there’s a way out, then you don’t change.
And then you receive the consequences of your behavior and it breaks your heavenly Father’s heart. But even when you blow it, when you sin, here’s God’s faithfulness: “If you confess your sin,” 1 John 1:9, “He is,” are you ready? Here’s our word, “…faithful and just to forgive you your sin and not just that, but to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.”
See, once you take the chocolate and you have logged on one more time and you have spent money that you don’t have and you took the vacation because it made you feel better and then, Ahh!
When you have posed and gossiped about someone else because somehow saying untrue things or shaded things about someone else puts them down and makes you feel better out of the envy in your heart. We all do these things! Then you feel such shame, especially if it comes to light.
And He says, I am faithful. I will help you in your weakness. I will help you when you are tempted. When you are biting the chocolate like this, if you’ll come clean and say, “Oh God. I agree with You.” That’s what the word confess means. I agree with You. This is wrong. Would You forgive me?
Jesus said, Well, that’s why I died. And I want to forgive you and I want to cleanse you and I want to put you on a new path. In fact, it gets so radical. This is a God that I don’t think most Christians know. I think most Christians are living with sort of a healthy dose of sin management. I don’t think I’m sinning quite as bad or as much as other people. And I’m doing this and I’m doing this and of course the Scripture says this and I know it’s a violation but everyone else is doing it and I think if I only do it at these times and these certain ways…
And you live with this God-consciousness over here and these blatant things that you know are wrong over here. And it’s just duplicity. And it tears at your soul. And it embarrasses the reputation of God.
But even if you go beyond weakness and temptation and sin to, I mean, just failure like, I’m done! Notice what the Scripture says about this wonderful, great God that takes messed up people like this and is faithful to change them from the inside out.
And, by the way, that picture? There are other pictures coming. And I would have new stories about other issues and struggles that we will have. Because we will arrive when we see Jesus face-to-face, just like you.
2 Timothy chapter 2 says, “It is a trustworthy statement that if we died with Him we will also live with Him. If we endure we will also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will deny us.” Did you get the parallelism? We have died with Christ like in belief in baptism, we are going to live with Him. We endure, even if we are persecuted, we are going to reign. There is reward. If we deny Him by our behavior, by our actions, He will deny us.
When you’re not walking with God, He doesn’t give you peace. His blessing is not on your life. He keeps wooing you but if we deny Him, He will deny us. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful,” you would you think it’s doot, doot, doot, doot, doot, should be, and, no, no, no, no.
“When you are faithless,” when your whole spiritual engine breaks down and you have messed up beyond just sin, you are running away from God and you think there is no hope, you’re in a black hole and you think God could never, ever, ever. And part of you, your heart is getting so hard you don’t even care and you’re running away. When you are faithless, are you ready for this? He remains faithful. Why? “Because He can’t deny Himself,” it’s His character.
This may come as a surprise to those of you who don’t know me very well but I grew up in a church where there was huge hypocrisy. We didn’t use the Bible. But I knew that I didn’t want anything to do with God or people who said they were Christians.
But I was a basketball junkie and I went to a camp and I saw people live it out and they gave me a Bible and I realized I rejected it but I had never read it. So I said, Oh, I don’t know. God, if You’re real, literally. I got a yellow pad out and, God, if You’re real, prove it. I will read the New Testament.
Memo. He is. But I was in the faith for two years and I had a besetting sin. It was lust. And praise God there was not the Internet. There were four girls to every guy on our campus. And first it was behavior and then I started to grow. And then it was some actions in my speech and then it was my thought life. And I would sit around a table with the basketball team and if you know what locker rooms, and I just, God, I’m sorry I said that. I’ll never say that again. God, last night on that date I did this. I’ll never do that again. God, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
The next day, next week, next day, next week, next week, I just. And I said, “I’m sorry,” five thousand times and went back and did the same thing over and over and over. Can anyone identify with your chocolate cake problem?
And so I thought I was taking the high road. I thought, Well, you know what? I can’t live this life. But I am not going to be like the people in my church so, literally, I quit. I had a Bible and I had one little poster in my dorm that said, “To the glory of God.” I had masking tape behind it. I pulled it down, folded it, stuck my Bible in the poster and, This is Chip Ingram turning in my jersey. I’m done. I quit the Christian life. I can’t live it so I’m not trying. I’m done.
Whew. That afternoon I’m walking across campus and a verse comes to my mind. Oh my gosh. Hellooo! We’ve got a communication problem here. It didn’t make it all the way up to the throne. I’m done! I turned in my jersey. I don’t pray. I don’t read. I’m not trying to be moral anymore, okay? Okay?
The next day, some Christian, “Hey, how are you doing? What’s going on?” “Oh my gosh. You haven’t heard. I quit the Christian life. I don’t want your encouragement. I don’t want to go to Bible study. Leave me alone.”
The next day, God just wouldn’t leave me alone. When I sinned it was just like, when I was a non-Christian, I sinned, it was just fun. I had a little bit of guilt, not much. But after I became a Christian, the Holy Spirit comes inside of you and you grieve the Spirit, you break God’s heart.
And it hurts. Now, you can sear it over time. But I was breaking God’s heart. And so I would sin and I had that same conviction. And it was like, Chip, do you remember when you prayed to receive Christ and became a follower of Jesus? “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” Remember that verse, Revelation 3:20? “Yeah.” Remember it said, “Behold, I, Jesus, stand at the door and knock. If any man or any woman would open the door of your heart, I would come in and live with you and eat with you and you would have a new life and we would go on together.”
“Yeah.” Well, didn’t you open the door? “Yeah.” Well, I came in. You can keep trying to not keep your word but I can’t violate My word. I said I would come in. Now, I may bring the velvet vice of consequences. Life can get harder and harder and harder and harder and harder until I get your attention. In fact, in the Scriptures, there are some genuine believers that God takes home early because they just get so hard hearted.
But He goes, I am your Dad. I love you. Even when you are faithless, I am faithful because I cannot deny Myself. Wouldn’t you like to go through life with a friend like that? Wouldn’t you want to go through life with someone that, when you are tempted and when you are weak and when you sin and when you just fail that would say, “Come unto Me. Let Me love you. Let Me restore you.” That’s that family’s journey.
I’d like you to think about what you are going to do with your life as we close this series. I’d like you to really think about what it is going to look like for you to say to God, I am going to own my stuff, no more double life, it’s going to be a little bit scary. But I am going to pursue making Christ and knowing Him the number one priority. And family and work and hobbies and money and plans will revolve around, I want to do life the way that would honor and please You.
And all I can tell you is it’s the life that is truly life. There are three things you need to do. Would you get out your pen and jot them down? Number one, put your past behind you today. Take out your chocolate cake issue, bring it before God, confess it, and tell Him, I’m done with this. I am going to ask You to forgive it. I’m going to own it. I’m putting it behind me. And His promise is: I am your friend.
I have to tell you, I bet the first ten years that I was a Christian, I knew intellectually that God loved me, I knew I had a saving relationship with Him, I knew He loved me but I didn’t think He liked me very much.
Do you think He likes you? What are friends like? In my weakest moments or when I have been with a friend who is really hurting and they start to cry, I don’t cross my arms and say, “Be a big boy! Stop crying!” What do we do? What do you do with people that you really love? You cry with them. And then you say something like, “Hey, I get it. I know your wife left you.” Or, “I get it. It has been twelve years you have been off meth. And you lapsed. We are going to make it through this.” Isn’t that what friends do? You have got one that will never leave you.
Second, bring your present problems, pains, and failures to Jesus today. I think there are some of us that we know Him but it’s by grace we have been saved and by our effort we are going to mature. Wrong. You need to bring the troubled marriage, the struggle, the attitude, the resentment, anything in your life, one of your kids, your frustration with being single and Jesus would say, today, Let’s start new. Come unto Me all of you that labor and are heavy laden. I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me. I am gentle, humble in heart. You will find rest for your soul. My burden is easy. He is not down on you.
But it’s a picture of two oxen and the yoke is the thing that connects them both. He says, We have to do life together. It’s not about: read the Bible and pray to earn any of God’s favor. It’s: Listen to Me, let Me help you, let Me bring people into your life. But you have to take your neck and say, “I want to get hooked up and do life with You, Jesus.”
And then, finally, you place your hope for the future in the One who will never let you down.
Jeremiah writes, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” When you are weak, when you are tempted, when you sin, and when you fail – we all do this – we think somebody or something, we have got a whole country that thinks that the whole election will depend on this person or that person. I am certainly going to be wise and vote but I am going to trust God, not a political party.
Notice he goes on to say, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” And then notice the rest of this verse, “It’s like a tree planted by the streams of water and its leaves are green.” In other words, circumstances don’t have the power to make your life or break your life.
Put your hope in Christ and the only way to do that is you have got to get to know His Word and you have to connect with people and you have to recognize you can’t live this life but Christ can live it through you.